The period of 1870 to 1872 was a time of experimentation and uncertainty for the U.S. Army Ordnance Department. To this end, the Ordnance Department commissioned the Springfield Armory to submit four various designs to be field tested and evaluated for possible adoption as an improved breech loading service rifle.
The rifles were the M-1870 “Trapdoor”, the M-1870 “Rolling Block”, the M-1870 Springfield “Sharps” and the M-1871 Ward-Burton bolt action.
The Ward-Burton was invented and patented by two Americans, Gen. W G. Ward and Bethel Burton. There were 1,011 rifles and a mere 316 carbines produced.
The rifle was of single shot design that featured a bolt with two sets of serrated threads on either side of the body that locked into corresponding threads inside of the receiver. The stubby bolt rotated 90 degrees and functioned like that of later bolt actions. It cocked upon closing. There was a small, spring-loaded bolt lock on the right rear of the receiver that functioned as a safety.
The barrel and most of the furniture were finished in "National Armory Bright," as were the other trial arms of the period. The M-1871 rifle had a 32 1/2" barrel secured to the full-length stock by two barrel bands and was fitted with a folding-leaf rear sight. The M-1871 carbine had a 22" barrel secured by a single barrel band to an appropriately shortened stock. It was fitted with a ring-and-bar attachment on the left side of the stock similar to the other Springfield Armory carbines of the era.
The M-1871 rifles and carbines were issued to a number of US. Army units for field testing, along with the other three .50-70 breechloading trial designs.
The various trial arms were subjected to grueling and rigorous use. In the majority of the subsequent test reports, the Ward-Burton did not fare well in the estimation of the reporting officers. There were several reasons for the near universal dislike of the Ward-Burton. Undoubtedly, the unusual (for its day) bolt-action was distrusted by many of its users. Unlike the Trapdoor Springfield, Sharps and Rolling Blocks, all of which had large outside hammers that could be readily observed, it was difficult to ascertain whether the Ward-Burton's action was cocked and/or loaded.
As the results of the field trials were reviewed and evaluated, it became apparent that the Ward-Burton was not suitable for continued production and it was dropped from further consideration.
The Model of 1870 Trapdoor Springfield was eventually selected as the best trial breechloader.
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